Horticulturist

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Randall, early 30s

What does a horticulturist do?

For Randall the definition of a horticulturist is fairly simple: "Basically someone that either grows plants or looks after constructed or natural landscapes." There's a range of roles within this definition, though.

The full range of roles includes:

  • Nursery work (retail/wholesale/production)
  • Landscaping
  • Managing parks and gardens
  • Working with Parks Victoria reserves and parklands
  • Arborist
  • Tree surgeon

"A lot of the better jobs would be found through running your own business and figuring out a niche," says Randall 

Randall himself manages a nursery which supplies native plants to large government projects. They propagate the plants, then prepare the soil and plant them and provide additional maintenance such as watering or weeding.

How did you become a horticulturist?

For Randall the inspiration for taking up a career in horticulture came during a working holiday overseas. "We were in Canada and I was picking cherries," Randall recalls. "I thought I liked being outdoors, working physically with my hands and just being able to see what you've done at the end of the day whether it's a bucket of cherries or something you've grown."

From there Randall returned to Australia and studied a three-year horticulture degree at the University of Melbourne, which gave him an in-depth knowledge of plants. He was lucky enough to land a job in the nursery that he's now running.

While his degree has been useful, Randall emphasises, "Half the guys in the company I work for don't have any qualifications. When I'm employing people I mainly look for a personality."

What are the people you work with like?

Dressed comfortably in a faded work shirt, Randall isn't a 'suit and tie' guy. Some of the appeal of horticulture is its casualness. "It's a laid-back industry," Randall grins. "Most people are there because they're passionate about plants. It's not really a career you do for money."

This "passion for plants" is particularly important in the area of native plants, where some local species are becoming threatened by imported flora.

What's the best thing about being a horticulturist?

Being a horticulturist has let Randall work outdoors and be in a casual environment, but what he loves the most is that horticulture has let him see into a secret world.

"I used to walk down the street and just see trees. Now I've learned about them and once you've learned something's name or you know a little about it, it becomes real to you."

Even in an urban environment Randall has been known to grab a unique fruit from a tree or look at how a plant works: "... things like the mechanics of leaves. If you actually look at a leaf you see how a plant sustains itself, or if you look at a flower you can see how it grows and the changes within it. It's a bit of magic really."

What skills do you need?

While Randall looks for a personality that will fit into the nursery when he's employing staff, he also looks for people who have a genuine interest in plants rather than a piece of paper.

 "I know a guy who just designed the garden that won the Chelsea Garden Show and he didn't study horticulture at all. He just had a yearning for it," says Randall.

Other useful skills are good observational skills to identify plants and the environment to suit them and problem solving because "a lot of things can go wrong in your nursery and it's too expensive to employ someone to solve everything for you."

Horticulture's an active job, so Randall requires an almost superhuman level of fitness: "It's actually really a physically demanding job. Like today I was digging holes all day and pulling trees out of the ground... with my teeth!" he adds with a smile.

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).